Charlie Gillett, 1942-2010

It’s generally those in the spotlight who get the headlines when they pass on from this life, but today we need to stop and pay tribute to one who laboured long and diligently behind the scenes to some extent;  the peerless Charlie Gillett, who has died after a long illness. 

I only met Charlie once back in the late 1970’s during the period when Dire Straits – thanks to Charlie’s ‘sponsorship’ – were starting their journey from obscure London pub rockers to global rock megastars.  He was extremely affable and I recall having a lively discussion in a London pub with him about South African popular music during which he dropped dozens of names that I couldn’t have hoped to remember but felt too awkward to ask him to write them down.

Apart from Dire Straits, Charlie was also responsible for bringing artists like Lene Lovich and Paul Hardcastle to our notice, but it was his relentless championing of world music which will probably be his true legacy.  In the end, Charlie was actually getting paid for compiling anthologies of World Music  – surely a dream job for anyone like me  who has spent much of their life putting together compilation tapes and (latterly) cd’s for mates.

Charlie Gillett; a man and his collection…..

Charlie was one of those writer/poet/impresario/presenter/journalist types like Joe Boyd or Robin Denselow who have been round the block a few times and who have seen the music business from a multitude of different angles.  In a way, he was a product of the 60’s and there are precious few people with such knowledge or wisdom or gravitas or humour left to us. 

My last real sighting of Charlie was last year when I sat down to watch the ‘Glastonbury Fayre’ movie (I wrote about it on this blog – see 16 Nov 2009) on a DVD donated by a friend.  They had lifted their old VHS copy from tape to disc and had done so from an old – possibly late 1980’s- Channel 4 broadcast of the movie, hosted by Charlie and Vivien Goldman.  In those days, Charlie had yet to be afflicted by his lengthy illness and still looked pretty perky.  His humorous  introduction to the movie was full of knowing,  impish fun, underpinned as ever by a bedrock of solid information.  He obviously preferred radio to TV, but he was good on the box, having apparently been headhunted to present ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ on more than one occasion, but always turning down the chance to be the next Bob Harris or the previous Annie Nightingale.  Our loss, but he was happy doing what he was doing on radio, though only for metropolitan audiences in the last 20 years or so.

They should put a statue up somewhere…..vaya con dios, Charlie.  We shall not see his like too often in the future.

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